Music education always & always looking forward.

Symmetry That's Sentimental: Symmetrical Compound Meter in Pearl Jam's "Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town"


Kids today, man, kids today. Right!? 

My only real complaint with kids today is that they can't spell. But I'm willing to blame that on No Child Left Behind, which forewent spelling tests for high-stakes (high-profit) standardized tests. 

Kids today are not that different from kids in the 90s, which was when I was a kid. The thing that I resent about kids today, though, is how much access they have to music. I cannot imagine ever having left my house if I had Spotify at the age of 17, or even at the age of 11. I was a kid of limited resources in 1999 (and in 1993), but I wanted music injected directly in my veins. In all honesty, my participation in school band was more about me wanting to have parent-sanctioned way to make music, to get close to the thing I loved more than anything, than it was about the desire to learn an instrument.

Kids today have Spotify & YouTube & so much of the world at their fingertips. We don't need to teach them about the 90s, right? They'll find it on the internet. 

But if we did feel the need to teach them about the 90s, and wanted to teach them that grunge could be in 6/8 time, I would absolutely teach this song. And it would be a terrific (and totally innocuous) song to use for a movement activity, also. 

Introduction: Pearl Jam was one of the definitive bands of the grunge rock movement of the early 1990s. Formed in grunge's cradle, Seattle, in 1990, the band broke through just a year later with their debut album, Ten. "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" was released on the band's sophomore album, Vs. in 1993. In the tradition of 1990s rock radio, "Elderly Woman" was not released as a single but received so much airplay that it reached 17 on the Billboard Modern Rock tracks and 23 on the Mainstream Rock tracks charts in 1994, repeating a similar feat when the live version of it was released in 1998. Vs. reached number one on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart and it was at this time Pearl Jam made a decision that would mark them for the remainder of their career -- coming into conflict with concert gargantuan Ticketmaster for the sake of not overcharging their fans. Their battles with the corporate giant were legendary, but the band's longevity even beat out their foes. Pearl Jam is still together, with the same drummer since 1998, and in 2017 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.

Analysis: This song is not a complex one, but a good example of a slow rock song in 6/8 time. The lilting guitar and cymbal subdivision give a good indication of what a 6/8 song sounds like. 

Considerations for Teaching: There is no objectionable material contained within this song and it would be perfectly to play for any age level. The sentimentality & positivity of this song makes for a potentially emotionally affecting listening.

Additionally, many early Pearl Jam songs obliquely cover the topic of surviving childhood abuse. Although this song does not cover the topic, it might be a gateway for further listening and an outlet for children who have suffered such.

You can donate to the band's Vitalogy Foundation here or to Blessings in a Backpack, an organization that helps to feed school-aged children during the weekends that Pearl Jam supported on their 2016 tour. 

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